With 3:36 remaining in the fourth quarter last night, the Pelicans were tied with the Atlanta Hawks at 108 a piece. Considering New Orleans had been down by as many as 17 points earlier within the same frame, it was an impressive feat for the Pelicans, who had been losing by an average of close to 15 points a contest through the first four games, to take it down to the wire.
Were it not for a forgettable second quarter or had Kyle Korver missed any of his shot attempts, the outcome might have been very different. Alas, the Pelicans move on to Dallas for the second game of their back-to-back sporting an 0-5 record.
The Mavericks are 2-3, but many expected them to struggle in 2015-16. They lost Tyson Chandler to free agency and surrounded the elder statesman Dirk Nowitzki with question marks. Both Chandler Parsons and Wesley Matthews are coming off major injuries while Mark Cuban decided to give the keys to Carlisle's offense to the oft-injured Deron Williams.
Speaking of Rick Carlisle, he agreed to an extension earlier this week to remain with Dallas through the 2021-22 season. He's a highly revered head coach, who has been tenured longer than everyone not named Gregg Popovich and Erik Spoelstra, and will be paid handsomely for his services.
Since the arrival of Anthony Davis, the Pelicans franchise has had an extremely difficult time beating their Southwest rivals. Last January, they finally extinguished their losing streak (9 games) and knocked off the Mavericks, 109-106, on the strength of strong performances by Davis, Tyreke Evans and Ryan Anderson.
Although the Pelicans went on to lose to the Mavericks in their final regular season matchup, don't expect to wait long for their next victory, and it is quite conceivable it happens Saturday night.
Three Keys to Victory
- Ride Anthony Davis. Davis broke out in a big way against the Hawks after the coaching staff found him the necessary space he needs to operate. That should not change, and with the Mavericks lacking anything resembling a solid defensive big, Dallas will present another green light special. The Pelicans only need to ensure they get the superstar off to a quick start, and if the double or even triple teams come early, Davis' teammates need to make the Mavericks pay for helping too much by knocking down their uncontested looks.
- Solid if unspectacular defense. At this point, the Pelicans first goal is to avoid the really bad quarter where numerous defensive breakdowns give way to a huge frame in favor of the opponent. The Mavericks are deep but lack game-breaking talent. They have seven players who are averaging over 9 points a game and Nowitzki's minutes have largely been held to under 30 minutes a game. As a team, Dallas is in the bottom third in points per game. They're no longer a team that prefers a shoot-out so tightening the screws on all assignments for a full 48 minutes should be priority number one and theoretically yield good results.
- Knock down the three-ball. Despite a lack of a genuine shot-blocker, Carlisle's defense doesn't give up many shots inside the restricted area. However, in crowding the paint, the Mavericks are giving up an inordinate number of three-point attempts to opponents. They rank among the worst in the league from both above the break and the corners. If Luke Babbitt or Eric Gordon find a way to get hot early, the middle will open up nicely for Davis.
With Jrue Holiday likely sitting out the second game of a back-to-back, it'll be vital for the offense to find their way through Ish Smith and Toney Douglas. Pushing the pace against a much older team will be a must, even if it comes at the expense of several additional turnovers.
Although the Mavericks will have the advantage of a day's rest, the Pelicans are coming off their best performance to date. As small as that momentum may be, it is important they ride it from the tip and attempt to run the older and/or hobbled legs out of the gym.